RIGA - Kaia Kanepi’s return to the tennis court has been short-lived but successful with a trip to the final of the KDB Korea Open. In spite of ongoing heel injuries that have sidelined Kanepi for significant parts of the 2012 season and left her looking on at a number of major tennis tournaments, the 27-year-old Estonian continues to produce the best tennis of her life.
The right-hander’s most recent strong result came in Seoul, South Korea, between Sept. 17 and Sept. 23 when Kanepi, making her first appearance on a tennis court for a competitive match since the French Open back in May, surged towards the final, dropping just one set on her way to a meeting with former world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
Beginning against lowly local hopeful, Sung-Hee Han, ranked 264 in the world, Kanepi dropped just one game in moving into the second round with a 6-1, 6-0 victory. The current world no. 17 was no less convincing in the round of 16 and the quarter-finals, respectively defeating world no. 68, Galina Voskobeva of Kazakhstan 6-2, 6-2 and world no. 63 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-4.
Meeting her first seeded player, world no. 21 Varvara Lepchenko of the USA in the semi-finals, Kanepi was also met with her first major challenge of the week. Dropping the opening set 4-6, Lepchenko fought back in the second set, claiming it 6-2 to set up a third and deciding set.
“I was quite dizzy today. [The] first time I felt alive, was when it was 3-3 in the deciding set,” Kanepi was quoted as saying on her personal Web site, www.kaiakanepi.com following the semi-final clash. From that point on, Kanepi only dropped one more game in taking the third set 6-4 to move into her third final of the season.
Kanepi has an extensive history against current world no. 11, Wozniacki, having played her on five previous occasions, winning two of those clashes, the most recent at the French Open when Kanepi knocked out the ninth seed in the round of 32.
However, in their second meeting of the year, there was only ever one player who looked like winning, with Wozniack storming to victory with a convincing 6-1, 6-0 victory.
“The match was so short, there is not much to tell,” said the Haapsalu native, adding, “I felt like the slowest tennis player in the world. My legs were heavy, everything was stiff - like a senior. I got a massage and hope it will not get any worse.”
However, Kanepi’s hopes were not answered and once more the Estonian is looking on from the sidelines.
The following week Kanepi entered herself in the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan, but was far from her best, suffering an uncharacteristic 7-5, 2-6, 3-6 loss to world no. 91, Jamie Hampton of USA in the second round. Following the loss, Kanepi announced her withdrawal from the China Open, which began on Sept. 30, with her ongoing heel problems once more flaring up.
“The left heel is OK, but there is some pain in the right heel. After such a long break I suddenly played a lot. I know how difficult it is to return to tournaments,” Kanepi was quoted as saying on her Web site, adding, “I did not expect to do so well in the first tournament [South Korea]. I played five matches in five days; usually there is a day off between some matches. Now I have to rest a bit.”
To date Kanepi’s heel problems have seen her miss a significant number of tournaments. Out of action following the French Open up until mid-September, the former Olympian had to miss the 2012 edition in London, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the entire North American hard court season.
Kanepi hopes to be back in action for the Bank of Moscow Kremlin Cup in Moscow, Russia, beginning on Oct. 15. The event can be pointed to as the launching pad for Kanepi’s current good run of form, as she made a surprise run to the tournament final in 2011.